Five years ago, my husband and I got married and moved into a larger home. That left us with one home that we had to decide to sell or rent. The real estate market was still soft in 2009 and our home is situated just 10 minutes from one of the largest military bases in the United States: Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM), WA. It boasts an active duty military population of 40,000 and a population three times that of civilian support!
The military moves on average every two to three years. With a robust turnover, we decided our beautiful 3 bedroom, 2.5 home with 2,400 square feet would be a perfect rental home for a military family. The big question we faced was “how do we get in front of those in the military community who are inbound from other areas?”
Connecting With Military Renters
The local housing office at the Joint Base Lewis McChord was very helpful. They advised us of a website called AHRN.com (Automated Housing Referral Network) that was very popular, which had all U.S. military bases and people could find housing from all over the world.
Our first couple of renters were referrals from AHRN.com. Both rented the house from out of state, sight unseen. One of them had a local friend come over to check out the place to ensure it looked like the pictures. The next renter we had was a drive-by. We never experienced a transition where the house was empty for even one day, until this year!
The Changing Military Rental Environment
This year was a different story. We began marketing our rental three weeks before it was going to be vacant without any bites until (of course) we went on vacation. We were feverishly responding to phone calls between vacation activities and having our daughter show the rental. Despite the challenges, my husband and I felt confident that the home would rent before the current tenants vacated. In the past, we would start panicking as the vacancy date approached (too soon) and then the perfect military tenant would come along just in time.
We came back from our vacation believing we had a renter secured… but it fell through. Soon, our tenants were on their way and we were one week into an empty house! There were “For Rent” signs everywhere in our neighborhood. We improved the curb appeal, made the house sparkle inside and out, held 3 open houses and decided it was time to look at other marketing options.
Our rental marketing research led to the following sources: Craigslist.org, Postlets.com and another military real estate advertising option. After posting on the other sources, we received some inquiries, but all were flakey and no-showed to appointments.
Two weeks into the house being empty and with no real viable candidates in sight, we were starting to panic. We had done everything right. We were starting to believe that the changing military environment was impacting our ability to rent our home to a wonderful military family. That’s when we received an inquiry on AHRN.com from a military family moving from Hawaii who ended up signing a three year lease agreement! We later found out that orders had been delivered late and that was the reason for the delay in relocation for many military families.
Why I Recommend Renting to the Military
I’ve owned and managed a previous rental in Sacramento, California. I have a close friend who is a 30-year Army veteran who is now a property manager with 90 rentals under management. We both agree that in our experience renting to the military is the best option. With a steady job, frequently higher standards and the ability to pay their rent through what is called allotment, the military community is a wonderful pool of tenants! The allotment option means that you get paid on time, every month, through direct deposit straight from their paycheck. Can’t beat that! Lastly, I come from a long line of those that served our great country and by leasing to those who currently serve, I feel in some small way I am saying “thanks” and giving back.
- Start planning early for repairs and marketing.
- Get curb appeal going as quickly as possible.
- Take high quality and up-to-date photos and videos.
- It’s never too early to start marketing (post listings and sign in front of yard as soon as you get notice). Many in military community are searching 60-120 days before they relocate.
- Post rental marketing listings on all websites as you never know which one will produce the right tenant at the right time.
- Don’t be afraid to spend a little money on marketing. You’ll reap the ROI by filling the property faster.
- Be very responsive. Military folks are making decisions quickly because they don’t have a lot of time. Don’t miss an opportunity because you missed an email or didn’t reply to a call quick enough.
- Be willing to negotiate for on-time rent via allotment, reduced security for great credit, etc.
About Lisa Klinkhammer
Lisa Klinkhammer owns her own marketing agency Red Door Group out of Tacoma, WA where she lives with her beloved husband, three kids and furbaby. She has a passion for helping companies grow by enhancing, engaging and expanding their brands and products in the digital market space. (Her company Red Door Group has also worked with AHRN.com, in addition to her personal use of it.) When she’s not helping companies or kids grow, she loves hanging out and capturing life via the camera lens.